On “Best Of” Polls (And Why I Hate Them)

It’s “Best Of” Season in the Capital Region, when all of the traffic-conscious local bloggers hereabouts are falling all over themselves to provide you with links to the big local newspaper’s “Best Of” readers’ poll website, while demurely batting their eyes and saying, “Oh, I’m just showing you where it is as a public service, but of course, don’t vote for me, I’m not worthy, really, vote for somebody, anybody, but please not me . . . .”

Riiiiiiiiight . . . .

I’m not going to point you to such a site, but if you find it yourself and want to vote for Indie Albany or in one or more categories, well, hey, go right ahead and do so. I’d vote for us, too, if I were inclined to vote in such things.

But I’m not, as a general rule. Even though I’m an inveterate list maker, these sorts of open-ended readers’ poll surveys tend to leave me cold, as I think they are better indicators of “Most Popular” or “Most Active Ballot Stuffing Street Team” than they are arbiters of “Best Of ” anything. Once you factor in selection bias and statistical significance (or, more often, lack thereof), readers’ polls are actually among the most useless survey instruments possible when it comes to determining quality, especially when the readers are encouraged to vote in as many categories as they possibly can (whether they know anything about them or not) as part of a prize eligibility requirement.

I used to think more highly of critics’ polls than I did of readers’ polls when it came to music and film, until I actually became a paid music critic, and grew to realize how often we picked things that were obscure to the point of absurdity, especially when they were made by our friends. So now I look at such critics’ polls with a jaundiced and cynical eye, assuming that if I haven’t heard of someone or something that the critics have cited, then odds are it’s the art editor’s girlfriend’s band.

So what I really like these days, when it comes to learning about new things that I might like, is not reading aggregated readers’ poll results that are subject to ballot-stuffing, nor anonymous group pieces crafted by a cabal of nepotistic critics, but rather something that falls between those extremes of gang mentality and willful obscurantism.

Where do I get that sort of perspective? By reading blogs or print articles by people whose opinions I respect, who lay out their own personal favorites in categories that really matter to them, and in which they are knowledgeable. I consider these folks my trusted online advisers, and that has nothing to do with whether or not the local newspaper’s readers consider them vote-worthy or not.

I’d encourage you all to develop your own list of trusted sources, if you’ve never done so. You’ll certainly get more out of doing that than you will by engaging in sheep-like adoration of the things that get listed in a readers’ poll, largely because the people behind such things are trying really hard to appear there.

Here’s a closing note to those folks who are desperately spinning their blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter follower lists, and e-mail rosters to whip up the votes for themselves. For the record, since I’ve been there, an appearance in a local newspaper’s “Best Of” readers’ poll plus a cup of coffee equals . . . a cup of coffee. So, please, stop embarrassing yourselves by groveling for something so meaningless in the big scheme of things. Dignity matters, you know?

20 thoughts on “On “Best Of” Polls (And Why I Hate Them)

  1. Aww, shucks and thanks!

    But I’m with ya on the readers’ polls. I haven’t paid any attention to them for years, and although they may occasionally make me aware of a place I hadn’t known about before, I can’t think of a single instance when they have caused me to check a place out.

    Nevertheless, I’m hoping my new site, Hoxsie.org, will run away with the award for “Best Website Made from Snippets Torn From An 1862 Schenectady City Directory.” I defy you to find one better!

  2. I get about halfway through those polls and can’t finish. I think it’s all the lead I ingested while working on our old house in Albany. But the thing that really bugs me about these polls is… the, ummm… it’s just that, ahhhh… hey, look: a squirrel!

  3. As I’ve said before, I’m no big fan of “best of” polls. And in fact, I really DON’T want to campaign for votes in these categories. Then it becomes a situation of “Do you really like the blog and are voting for it, or are you just a friend of that person and willing to be part of a voting bloc?” So I simply put on my blog the list of people I would want people to vote for (including Indie Albany) BEFORE they should consider putting my name in the box.

    Besides, what’s the “best of” listing going to get for me anyways? It’s not like someone would say to me, “Hey I got ‘Best of Blog’ and you didn’t, therefore my blog is better than yours.” Oh wait. That’s entirely possible, depending on who’s saying it. 😉

    • Based on past experience of being on both the giving and receiving side of “best of” accolades, in both readers’ and critics’ poll, I think there is a direct correlation between how hard you work to win, and how disappointing the experience is when you do, since nothing changes . . . .

      If you put no effort into it, then, hey, that was a nice surprise, thanks!

      But if you campaign for it, and you get it . . . and then nothing changes . . . uhhhhhh . . . . why did you spend all that time and effort?

      • Ah, but the difference is – I’m NOT campaigning for votes, because I don’t want to be selected. I’ve said clearly. Don’t vote for me. My post wasn’t about being “aw geez, don’t vote for me,” it was “I’m not running, so don’t waste your vote on me.”

        Very clear. I’m not operating with some sort of “reverse psychology” mantra. My feeling about the whole thing is – if you think somebody is worthy of the award because you enjoy reading their blog, then vote that way. If that floats your boat, then that’s fine and dandy. But vote for someone else, because I’m taking my name out of the running.

        In other words, I will not run if nominated, and I will not serve if elected.

        • Just for the record, I had not seen Chuck’s post on this topic when I wrote this article, nor any of the other TU Bloggers’ posts if there are such articles showing up there, so this is not in response to any one post in any one location. I am seeing this phenomenon in other places, though, and I saw it rampant on the TU in the past, so I assume that it’s in full swing there again this year too . . . to your credit, Chuck, you always have been great about spreading the love . . .

        • @J. Eric: see, that answer is a bit disappointing here… I really liked what you said originally but it seems now that as long as your own blog is in one of these “best of poll, but pleaaaaase don’t vote for me” parodies of post, it is suddenly back to acceptable.

          • Not sure how you reach that conclusion, S . . . I don’t read any of the TU blogs as a point of principle at this point, so all I was saying is that my post was bigger than a response to any one blog there, lest people think I was singling Chuck out, per B’s post above. And, as I noted, to his credit, Chuck is generous with referrals year round, not just during “Best Of” season . . . perhaps I could have worded it better, but that’s what I meant about “always” in the final sentence. So I’m not retracting anything I said above, but by the same token, I’m commenting on a market-wide phenomena, not just on one person’s blog. B singled out Chuck in a way that I wouldn’t have, regardless of whether Chuck had mentioned me or not. My track record will show that I do not generally personalize things here . . . and I tend not to attack people specifically, but rather write generically, and let others decide whether what I write pertains to them or not, and (more importantly) whether they care or not. Fashion bullies . . . bobbleheads . . . political bullies . . . Best Of pimps . . . “community” advocates . . . . or whatever other potentially cutting comments commentaries that I’ve written about bloggers the Capital Region: If you think the shoe fits, wear it. If not, don’t. It’s up to Chuck or anybody else who reads this post to decide whether what I wrote resonates, and whether it alters blogging behavior in the future . . . even though I myself wouldn’t write a post of the nature of the one he wrote, and its not the kind of referral that moves me in any meaningful way.

  4. I’m not voting in the TU’s “Best of” poll at all because of the Terms and Conditions–all of that “Your information becomes property of the Hearst Corporation” wording scared me off.

    I agree with Eric, -S. I don’t see how you reached that conclusion either. I suppose if you look hard enough for something to criticize, you’ll find it.

    • @Roz: not really expecting you to see how I reached to that conclusion, I’ve seen your comments on Chuck’s blog. J. Eric wants to stay above the fray and that’s OK, I felt that linking to examples would better illustrate his point though. For a second I thought that pointing this post to Chuck would have him realize how bad it got as of late, but he has mastered the art of denial. You could keep three psychology students busy for 5 years on this one.

      • It’s very, very, VERY rare that I’ll link to examples in a case like this, since then that usually turns a general/macro-level conversation into a moratorium on a specific/micro-level person, place or thing . . . . so it’s not so much a matter of wanting to stay above the fray as it is a learned understanding that the message is cleaner when readers can apply it as they see fit while they forage around on the Internet themselves (e.g. see new post tonight about blog and media response to Fukushima nuclear disaster).

        I do appreciate the comment, S . . . and as noted above, I could (and should) have written my disclaimer a bit more clearly after B linked to Chuck’s blog . . . . the intention wasn’t to give Chuck a free pass, but rather to say that I didn’t know (or care, honestly) that he had written a post like I had described, and pointed here as part of it . . .

    • I had the whole TU site blocked from all of my computers for six months or so after the whole political advertising kerfuffle, then a few weeks ago, I figured enough time had passed so that I would be able to start reading some of the blog pages again without getting aggravated. That lasted for about a week, at which point I blocked the whole site again. It’s good, sometimes, to move on and not look back . . .

      • It’s like watching a car crash but I should follow that advice. I do like Steve Barnes blog, it’s informative. What did you use for blocking? Wait, did I just admit I don’t have the will power to look away? 🙂

        • I use the BlockSite AddOn for Firefox. Obviously, if I really want or need to see something, I can turn off the block (and occasionally do so), but it’s more the mental pause that the filter forces of “Wait . . . do I REALLY want to go over there and look at something?” that broke the habit of hitting the blog pages there on a regular basis.

          Which was a good thing, as it really was an unhealthy habit . . . there are a few things I’d still like to be reading over there, but there are also a solid dozen or more blogs that I really, really despise over there, on a very visceral basis, and (as you note, it’s like watching a car crash), I would find myself checking them as well, and then being annoyed by what I read. I suspect that the management team over there is very well aware of this phenomenon, where negative response may actually generate more interest than positive response, and that it plays a role in their reader-blogger selection process.

          And life’s just too short to spend any time engaged in an unhealthy, unproductive habit like that, especially when doing so actually serves to feed the advertising monster underneath it all . . .

    • For what it’s worth, I actually wrote essentially this same article (a bit shorter version) when I was actually hosted on the TU, with links to other stuff that I liked at the time . . . so due to those same Terms and Conditions, which hold my work there in the public domain still, you could opt to read me complaining about their Best Of poll on their own website as well, if you wanted . . . .

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